Title: The Demi-Monde: Winter
Author: Rod Rees
No. of Pages: 528
Genre: Science Fiction
Origins: Trade Show Offering
Bottom Line: An exciting and unique science fiction novel involving a carefully planned and well-executed virtual reality that is a bit too realistic for comfort and thrilling in the chaos inherent to its design.
“The U.S. military created the Demi-Monde to train its soldiers in urban warfare. A virtual world of 30 million inhabitants ruled by cyber-duplicates of some of history’s most dangerous psychopaths—from Grand Inquisitor Torquemada to fanatical Nazi butcher Rudolph Heydrich—it is a twisted nightmare and anything but a game. Because if you die inside the Demi-Monde, you die in the Real World.Now, in the year 2018, something has gone horribly wrong. . . .The U.S. President’s daughter has been lured into this terrifying shadow world and her only hope of rescue is Ella Thomas, an eighteen-year-old student and jazz singer who’s never received a day of military training. Somehow she must infiltrate the Demi-Monde and bring the First Daughter out. But Ella is about to discover something the U.S. government does not yet know—the walls containing the evils of this simulated world are rapidly dissolving . . . and the Real World is in far more danger than anyone could ever imagine.”
Thoughts: Ella Thomas is a normal eighteen-year-old, trying to earn money to put herself through college and keep her younger brother out of trouble. When she is offered a job to enter the Demi-Monde and rescue the President’s daughter, she also receives five million reasons to accept the dangerous task. Unfortunately, the virtual world is something for which no amount of training can prepare someone, and Ella soon finds herself whisked along in the chaos that is the Demi-Monde, forming unlikely partnerships, crossing paths with some of the most famous and infamous historical and cultural leaders to grace the Earth, and uncovering a dangerous plot with the potential to change the world, real and virtual, forever. Such is the world envisioned by Rod Rees in his novel, The Demi-Monde: Winter.
The Demi-Monde: Winter involves a fully-realized virtual reality in which Mr. Rees has already considered and planned the slightest details to make it as realistic as possible. It is complex and layered and not easily explained or understood in a few short pages, let alone chapters. However, this intricacy is necessary for it adds a layer of authenticity to the story and prevents it from becoming farcical. Between the glossaries for common terminology, the explanations that begin each chapter, and the detailed maps of each section of the Demi-Monde itself that precedes each section, a reader can take as much time as necessary to adapt to the lingo, learn the geography, and understand the political, religious, social, and economic differences of each sector before proceeding to the next chapter/page/paragraph. The time taken to understand the Demi-Monde will help immerse the reader into this familiar but different world.
One of the unique features of the Demi-Monde, and therefore of the story, is the fact that the key leaders in the virtual world are historical characters. If one is so inclined, a reader can take the time to learn more about each of the leaders and key players in the drama. Not only does it help a reader understand why they made the chosen list of cyber-duplicates, it adds a sense of tension to know exactly what each character is capable of achieving when allowed to run amok in a virtual world predicated on chaos. There is something profoundly chilling in knowing what Rudolph Heydrich did in real life and seeing how he might have acted without an opposing force to stop him.
The Demi-Monde: Winter is not by any means a character-driven novel. In fact, character development is superficial at best, while character descriptions beyond the physical are also lacking. However, a reader never feels this loss, as the characters’ actions make sense given what little back story is told about them. In addition, much of the character development occurs in the heat of the moment, forgoing the necessity for detailed exposition regarding each character’s past. One does not need to know about Trixie Dashwood’s childhood to understand her transformation by the end of the novel, and Ella’s character is one the evolves as her time in the Demi-Monde lengthens. The only character to suffer from this distinct lack of explanation is the President’s daughter, but it becomes apparent that this is a deliberate choice on Mr. Rees’ part for a reader’s uncertainty about her will play a large role in future novels. Even without a detailed back story, each character has a strong personality that bursts from the page and enlivens the action. One never knows how a character is going to act, and it is this uncertainty which helps generate suspense but also gives readers a feel for the maelstrom that is the very definition of the Demi-Monde.
As with all science fiction novels, there is a level of disbelief that one should suspend for overall enjoyment of the story, and the same is true of The Demi-Monde: Winter. Mr. Rees dispels some of the disbelief himself with the descriptions of the computers used to power the Demi-Monde; they are too powerful for current technology. Then there is the idea of prescient virtual beings who completely understand their environment and its limitations and the idea that a computer simulation could manifest itself in the real world; Mr. Rees uses the long-standing fears of technology becoming cognizant and acting of their own accord to create an element of fear and urgency throughout the story. That being said, one never knows just how advanced computers have become in the private sector, and the mere possibility that the government could create a virtual training world using advanced computers and processing adds to the intrigue. As far-fetched as the premise might be, the fact that there is always a chance of its occurrence is more than enough to make the idea exciting.
The Demi-Monde: Winter is a truly fascinating look at the possibilities of virtual reality and the dangers of becoming to immersed into them. It is also an intriguing sociological experiment in forcing so many megalomaniacs into one small area and watching to see who emerges as a victor. The results are surprising and yet not quite as shocking as one might initially predict. The world inhabited by the Demi-Mondians is suitably horrifying, especially as a counterpoint to modern cultures, but the largest revelation of all is how little it takes to adjust to the differences. The hatred and vitriol spewed by the top leaders in the Demi-Monde never cease to be upsetting but become less outrageous as a reader progresses through the novel. The depravity of the Rookeries and the abject poverty of most of the Demi-Mondians becomes Dickensian rather than appalling, part of the setting rather than any sort of social commentary. Yet the element of danger that a reader first experiences in the prologue never ceases as the story develops. A reader can adjust to the hatred, to the poverty, to the depravity, and to the putrefaction of the Demi-Monde itself, but a reader never adjusts to the danger that is part of the daily life of living in the Demi-Monde. It makes for a gripping story with captivating characters and a fast-paced plot which allows a reader to fly through its 500+ pages. The breathtaking ending will leave a reader eagerly anticipating the next installment in the series. Thankfully, American audiences do not have that much longer to wait.